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Scientists based at Harvard University are claiming that they have created a tiny amount of the rarest and most valuable material in the world – metallic hydrogen.
Scientists have been attempting to create metallic hydrogen for at least one hundred years, but this is the first time that they have even managed to come close. As Professor Isaac Silvera, one of the researchers on the project put it; “This is the holy grail of high-pressure physics.”
It could also allow humanity to explore outer space as never before
Currently, the tiny piece of metallic hydrogen can only be viewed through the pair of diamonds that were used to crush pure liquid hydrogen at sub-zero temperatures. The pressure that was exerted on the liquid hydrogen to force it into a metallic form was greater than that found in the Earth’s core. The sample will remain in this state of extreme pressurization for a couple of weeks. After that, the scientists will relieve the pressure to see if the hydrogen retains its metallic form and stays stable at room temperature. “That means if you take the pressure off, it will stay metallic, similar to the way diamonds form from graphite under intense heat and pressure but remains a diamond when that pressure and heat is removed, ” Professor Silvera explained.
The world of engineering is waiting with bated breath to see if the scientists are successful at this secondary stage. If they are then the result could be a revolutionary breakthrough as metallic hydrogen would be the most effective super-conductor known to humanity. It could enable the construction of super-fast computers, high-speed trains capable of levitation and could have massive implications for rocket building and space exploration missiles. Professor Silvera explains that it takes a tremendous of energy to create the metallic hydrogen. If this process were reversed, it would release all of that energy creating the most powerful rocket propellant human beings have ever envisaged. “That would easily allow you to explore the outer planets, ” Professor Silvera said, “We would be able to put rockets into orbit with only one stage, versus two, and could send up larger payloads so that it could be very important.”
Even if the de-pressurisation experiment doesn’t go according to plan, Professor Silvera is still hugely excited about his work on the project. “It’s a tremendous achievement, ” he said, “and even if it only exists in this diamond anvil cell at high pressure, it’s a very fundamental and transformative discovery.”
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